The Story of… George 'Snowy' Howell and his $650,000 Victoria Cross
The Story of George 'Snowy' Howell and his $650,000 Victoria Cross
This Australian war hero's medals, including his VC, will be up for grabs in Sydney later this year
Born in Sydney in 1893, Howell enrolled with the Australian Imperial Force in 1915. After seeing action at Gallipoli, his battalion was transferred to the Western Front. In April 1917 Howell took part in an attack on the German held village of Demicourt, which saw him earn the Military Medal for "courage and devotion to duty".
In May of that year Howell's devotion to the cause saw him perform incredible acts of bravery at the battle of Bullecourt. Observing that the Germans were set to outflank his battalion, Howell emerged from cover and, under heavy fire, began running along the trench line throwing bombs down on to the Germans.
When his supply of bombs ran out, Howell continued attacking with his bayonet, eventually falling into his own trench with 28 wounds, many of them from machine guns. Howell's actions had helped stop the Germans advancing. For this he received the Victoria Cross.
The London Gazette included the war office's citation for Howell's Victoria Cross in June 1917. It stated that:
"The prompt action and gallant conduct of this N.C.O. in the face of superior numbers was witnessed by the whole Battalion and greatly inspired them in the subsequent successful counter attack."
Following a period in hospital Howell was discharged from the army on medical grounds and spent his peace time years in the advertising departments of several Australian newspapers. The outbreak of the Second World War saw Howell serve at both the Australian Eastern Command headquarters and the United States Sea Transport Service.
Howell died in 1964, aged 71.
Howell receives the Victoria Cross andMilitary Medal from King George V at Buckingham Palace on July 21, 1917
Howell's entire collection of 11 military medals is up for auction through Noble Numismatics in Sydney on April 5 - 7, with a listing of $650,000, evidence of the growing market for medals and Victoria Crosses in particular.
These symbols of heroic action each tell their own story and collectors will pay large sums for a unique remembrance of a stirring deed.
There are thought to be around 1 million medal collectors and investors in the world and with the 2014 centenary of the First World War approaching, demand for the 628 Victoria Crosses from the Great War could grow significantly. A double Victoria Cross and bar of Officer Noel Godfrey Chavasse sold for nearly 1.5 million in November, 2009.
The first recipient of the medal was Major John Simpson Knox following the 1854 Battle of Alma, the first battle of the Crimean War.
Only 13 Victoria Crosses have been awarded since the end of the Second World War.